The Somali government's armed militia has killed more than 10 people in clashes with forces from the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in a disputed town in the northern region, sources said on Monday.
The town, Las Anod, is claimed by both Somaliland and the semi-autonomous Puntland region, which is loyal to Mogadishu.
Hours before Monday's clashes, traditional leaders in Sool territory, where Las Anod is located, issued a statement pledging to support "the unity and integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia", urging Somaliland authorities to withdraw their forces from the area.
Somaliland's interior minister, Mohamed Kahin Ahmed, accused militias allied with traditional leaders of attacking military camps.
"At around 5.30am this morning, armed forces" with "mortars and rocket-propelled grenades attacked national armed forces camps", Mr Ahmed told journalists.
"The attackers involved in the fighting are part of forces that have been organised by traditional leaders," he added.
"The deaths of 10 people have so far been confirmed," a traditional leader, Hirsi Farah Magan, told AFP. "I saw the bodies of three children and their mother killed in a mortar strike on their house.
Another traditional leader, Mohamed Sheikh Adan, told AFP by phone that he had confirmation of the deaths of "13 people, including six civilians, with children among them".
Muse Bihi, the president of Somaliland, whose administration is in Hargeisa, about 380km to the west, called a meeting of his government on Monday afternoon to assess the situation in Las Anod.
The government is open to "dialogue and mediation" but will not hesitate to intervene "against any armed group intending to create instability," according to a statement issued after the meeting.
"The Somaliland National Army has today succeeded in thwarting a terrorist attack on a military base," he said, without elaborating. "We call on all traditional leaders, scholars, businessmen, women, youths... to contribute to the return of peace in the town," he added.
Control of Las Anod, a town on a commercial route, has changed hands several times in recent decades.
In January, protests triggered by the killing of a local politician in late 2022 rocked the town, where opposition parties and human rights groups accuse Somaliland forces of killing several protesters.
A former British protectorate, Somaliland prints its own currency, issues its own passports and elects its own government, but the lack of international recognition keeps it isolated.
The region, which is relatively stable compared to the rest of Somalia, has been rocked by violent protests and political crises for several months.
In August, demonstrators were killed in anti-government protests, and in October, a decision by the council of elders to extend the president's term of office after elections were postponed caused an opposition outcry.